Every live concert with an audience seems like a gift at this time. Gerald Finley is one of the classical music world’s great communicators and this opportunity to hear him, fresh voiced, ideally partnered by Julius Drake and full of things to say, was an exquisite treat.

Gerald Finley
© Wigmore Hall

Opening with a series a songs by Gabriel Fauré, including late song cycle L'horizon chimérique, Finley showed his great affinity with the French repertoire and language. He was particularly passionate and seductive in the beautiful Les Berceaux, while in the song cycle, he found a bleached, tragic tone. 

Henri Duparc whose tiny repertoire of 13 chansons contain some of the most beautiful songs in French – or indeed in any – language. A collection of four were delivered here with authority and genuine feeling. The jewel in the crown of the composer’s output, L’invitation au voyage, was fabulously rich, dramatic and yet subtle in Finley’s hands, a whole life in a song.

The next stop on this transatlantic voyage was Samuel Barber, whose songs, many inspired by French chansons, represent the best of American songwriting. They are also the composer’s most personal utterances. From his first set of published songs, Bessie Bobtail tells the bleak story of a woman brought low by The Depression with a restless urgency. The Nocturne that followed has a convoluted melodic line which is at odds with its peaceful atmosphere, questing and mysteriously achieved here. Next up were three Joyce settings written during World War 2 and the final song of the set is a fervently anti-war depiction of a young lad sent to war and to his doom. Finley was at his most dramatic here, producing a terrifying weight of tone.

Julius Drake and Gerald Finley
© Wigmore Hall

Charles Ives is the most unpredictable of composers and a rare example of a composer not seeking creative approval or financial reward. This group of songs showed the range of his output, from the simple Brahmsian art song Feldeinsamkeit to the nostalgic Tom Sails Away and finally the wickedly humorous 1,2,3. Finley was able to go along with all the various styles and moods as they took him, never underestimating their impact or quality.

The final group were from the world of American popular music, with music by Harold Arlen and Cole Porter. Arlen's It’s Only a Paper Moon, from a forgotten film of the early 1930s, found a new life in the 1940s when made a hit by Ella Fitzgerald. Finley captured its delicacy and sad charm which was completely unforced. The secret of the success in his delivery in these crossover numbers is that Finley doesn’t adapt his tone or approach, but maintains his performance style which is always flexible and naturally communicative anyway. 

Two encores by Copland and Fauré summed up all that had gone before with the beautiful final bars of Après un rêve ‘creeping into our ears’ as a fitting coda to a highly enjoyable recital. 

This performance was reviewed from Wigmore Hall's video stream